Paramount // 1966 // 1461 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // September 27th, 2004
Space, the final frontier...these are the voyages of the starship Enterprise.
In the fall of 1966, a TV show called Star Trek premiered on NBC. The show took viewers into space on a weekly visit to a future that included, among other things, global peace and prosperity, racial equality, advanced technology, and groovy chicks in velour miniskirts. Although the crew of the Enterprise had a five-year mission, the show lasted only three, a victim of low ratings. For most television series, that would have been the end, but for Star Trek it was only the beginning.
Four decades later, this "space western" has become a worldwide cultural phenomenon. Fans embrace it because they want to believe in the vision creator Gene Roddenberry had of a world where people work together, where sheer will and a pioneering spirit are still what drives humanity forward. It's a universe where we coexist with aliens, help our neighbors, and turn our differences into strengths. The original series, as well as its many television and movie "children," has influenced our imaginations to such an extent that even recent technological achievements have been inspired by gadgets, such as hyposprays and tricorders, used on the show. A 1993 Purdue University study found that children learn more about science from watching Star Trek than they do in the classroom. A television series about the future has shaped the very future it envisioned.
Nearly forty years after its debut, does the original series still hold up, or is it as obsolete as Yeoman Rand's beehive hairdo?
The starship is the Enterprise, and her captain is James Kirk (William Shatner). Along with his second in command, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and his crew, their five-year mission is to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no man has gone before!
The adventures of the Enterprise in Season One take her from an isolated science outpost that conceals a deadly shape-shifting predator ("The Man Trap") to a once-populous city overrun by creatures that burrow into the human nervous system and cause insanity in their host ("Operation: Annihilate!"). In between these more straightforward monster-fighting bookends are episodes of all kinds, from the gritty "The Enemy Within," an exploration of what happens when a man is literally split into two opposing personalities, to the exciting "Balance of Terror," a taut thriller involving two brilliant tacticians in a fight for survival, to the romantically tragic "City on the Edge of Forever," a time-travel story in which the woman Kirk falls in love with must die in order to preserve the timeline.
The box set includes all 29 episodes from Season One as they were originally broadcast, complete and uncut, on eight discs. (Those who have only seen this series in syndication may notice a few extra scenes that are traditionally trimmed for time.) The video quality for these episodes has been enhanced and cleaned up, and the box set release also features a newly remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround audio track in addition to the 2.0 surround track that was part of the 1999 two-episode-per-volume DVD release.
As a complement to the episodes, there is a static "Photo Log" feature, which is a click-through album of full-color stills from the first-season episodes, and original teasers that can be accessed from the menu for each episode. Fans will recognize these as the "Star Trek...Next Voyage" previews that played at the end of each week's episode to pique the viewer's interest for the following week. It's interesting to compare the quality of these trailers to the enhanced image in the actual episodes.
Four of the episodes feature an optional trivia track by Michael and Denise Okuda, art director and scenic artist for most of the more recent Star Trek titles. The four episodes are:
* "Where No Man Has Gone Before"
* "The Conscience of the King"
* "The Menagerie, Part One"
* "The Menagerie, Part Two"
Finally, there is a bonus disc that includes five featurettes:
* "The Birth of a Timeless Legacy"
Getting Star Trek off the ground was not an easy task. First, the creators had to convince a studio to make it. Then, when the first pilot flopped, they had to convince the studio to let them have another chance, something almost unheard of in television history. This featurette showcases the amazing story of what it took to get Star Trek on the air. At thirty minutes, this is the longest featurette, and it includes some archival interviews with Gene Roddenberry and recent (2003-2004) interviews with cast, crew, and writers.
* "Life Beyond Trek: William Shatner"
Shatner, an accomplished equestrian, has devoted much of his post-Trek life to riding and keeping horses. This 2003 featurette goes in depth with him, talking about his passion for horses and how he met his wife Elizabeth through their shared interest.
* "To Boldly Go..."
This Season One recap profiles the challenges involved in producing a science fiction show on a very tight budget. As actor William Shatner points out, the catering bill for a contemporary television show is about the same as what the makers of Star Trek had for each weekly episode. Producer Robert Justman and associate producer John Black share their experiences with some of the best-known episodes from the season, and actors Shatner, Nimoy, George Takei (Sulu), Ricardo Montalban (Khan, in a 2000 interview), and William Campbell (Trelane) discuss the parts they played.
* "Reflections on Spock"
Leonard Nimoy discusses the character of Spock, his famously misunderstood autobiography I Am Not Spock, and its follow-up written several years later, I Am Spock.
* "Sci-Fi Visionaries"
Despite its limited budget, Star Trek is known for strong writing, mostly due to the conscious decision to bring in science fiction novel and short story writers to pen the scripts. Interviews with John and Mary Black, D.C. Fontana, and Robert Justman profile the writers and fill in the behind-the-scenes machinations that lead to some of the best shows of the season.
Miniskirts, beehive hairdos, primary colors, eyeliner in all the wrong places. These are just a few of the reasons people laugh out loud when they watch the original series of Trek for the first time. After a dose of over-the-top theatrics, heavyhanded moralizing, and cheesy scenery, the viewer may be left wondering, "Why all the fuss?"
The reason is simple: idealism and passion, which were shared in equal measure by the show's producers and its fans. Here was a show made on a shoestring budget, produced during a time when westerns and adventure-oriented sci-fi like Lost in Space ruled the airwaves. Indeed, creator Gene Roddenberry had to sell it as a "Wagon Train to the stars" in order to interest executives. Of course, what he delivered was something entirely different -- sure, there were gunfights and small-town drama, but there were also commentaries on all kinds of social issues, ranging from women's liberation to the disconnection between parents and children. The difference is that Trek couched these issues in metaphor. If you didn't look beneath the surface, you wouldn't see it -- a show about alien spores making the entire ship peace out and forget their ambitions would merely be a gripping tale about overcoming a virus.
In this way, Star Trek produced vital, powerful shows that resonated with the audience. "The Devil in the Dark" could be seen as just a monster thriller, with the giant, shambling Horta terrorizing miners and destroying equipment in a seemingly random fashion, but it turns into a compelling story about the tendency to fear and doubt anything that doesn't comfort us or seem familiar to us. When Mr. Spock conducts a mind meld with the creature, we're afraid and fascinated all at once, and his startling revelation completely changes the way we see it.
In contrast to more recent Star Trek series, which employed a standard formula for scripts that used an "A" plot (the major drama or conflict) and a "B" plot (the lesser story line that ran parallel to the major drama) in the same episode, classic Trek only had the "A" plot, which the crew focused all their energies on until they resolved it. This allowed plenty of time to tell a story and to develop characters fully; even guest characters often had complete backgrounds that fleshed them out for the audience. Thus, the stories were deeper and, often, more memorable.
Of course, Star Trek was not an infallible show -- not every episode was a gem, and the budget never really got bigger; the makers just had more material to reuse in clever ways as the show went on. However, it was a series that did a lot with what it had to work with, and understood that good science fiction is built on a solid foundation of good ideas and storytelling rather than flashy special effects. When I watch a contemporary show that gets this wrong, it makes me appreciate the themes from the original series, which hold up today as strongly as they did in 1966 -- you just have to look past the short skirts and go-go boots to see them.
As for the episodes themselves, I can honestly say that I have never seen them looking as good as they do on DVD. In 1999, Paramount remastered the image, enhancing the color depth and doing a process cleanup for the print, in preparation for release to DVD. The result was a gorgeous print that is suprisingly clear and detailed. In "The Naked Time," a close shot of Spock as Nurse Chapel confronts him in sick bay is so fine that you can see his face makeup. The color treatment also warms up the image (which was often washed out in syndication and VHS release) and correctly brings out the green makeup used for Nimoy to suggest Spock's Vulcan blood. The image is not completely free from defects -- there is some age-related wear -- but it is greatly improved over previous versions, and absolutely delightful to watch.
The original mono soundtrack has been remastered into a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround that is mostly apparent during ship fly-bys. Certain other ambient sounds travel from back to front channels, enhancing the original track, which has been piped into a stereo feed and separated into the back speakers for a rich sound field.
As extras go, I was impressed by the featurettes included in this box set. Considering the hours of film and reams of paper devoted to Star Trek and anyone connected with the show, it's a wonder there is anything new to talk about any more. Therefore, the featurettes walk a line between overexposing devoted fans who know all the stories already and satisfying the more casual viewer. Each featurette intertwines solid documentary information with new interviews, stories, and anecdotes from cast and crew that should keep even the most knowledgeable fan entertained. Surprises like seeing William Campbell (who played Trelane in "Squire of Gothos") talk about his character are quite a treat.
Keeping in tradition with previous box set releases, there are four easter eggs (called "Red Shirt Logs," an amusing in-joke referring to the expendability of characters in the red security color uniform) that can be found on the bonus disc by arrowing around in the Special Features section. George Takei reveals the truth behind his famous "going nuts with the rapier" story (he was accused of chasing down cast and crew with a foil while preparing for his role in "The Naked Time"); Robert Justman talks about a Casablanca style forced-perspective scene they were going to create for "The Cage"; Justman appears again to talk about Clint Howard, who (as a kid) played a creepy scene involving a childlike alien who had a booming, adult voice; and John Black talks about an amusing experience with William Shatner, when the actor confessed his concern about what he would do if the series didn't make it long-term.
Finally, the box itself. Made of plastic and opening in a "V" shape like a shell, this first box set is mustard-yellow, the command color ("medical blue" and "security red" are promised for the second- and third-season sets). Decorations include an inset captain's badge on the back and a raised badge on the front that is outlined in reflective gold. The title "Star Trek The Original Series" is also raised and gold-pressed, for a gorgeous, shimmering look. A cutout in front reveals packaging inside, with a shot of Spock and Kirk in "A Taste of Armageddon." Inside, after a slip-off the cardboard sleeve (probably the only weak link in an otherwise solid packaging effort), the episodes are mounted in a clear plastic "book" that allows viewers to flip through until they find the disc they want but keeps everything together neatly. Personally, I like these whimsical packages, and I especially appreciate the durability of the all-plastic cover and the protected DVDs within. The gold-pressed letters might scratch off, though, so it's probably not a good idea to just chuck this around willy-nilly.
It's hard to knock this release -- finally, the episodes from Season One of Star Trek are available at a reasonable price, both the image and sound have been upgraded, and there's a boatload of extras. However, one thing that would have made this truly complete would have been a scene-specific commentary by some of the original actors. Since Shatner, Nimoy, Takei, and Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) participated in the featurette interviews, it would have been great to get them together for some commentary on at least a few of the episodes.
One thing that is conspicuously absent is the "The Cage," the original pilot that didn't go over so well with studio executives but that was later turned into the two-part episode called "The Menagerie." This failed pilot would have served as an interesting reference point for some of the interviews and discussion on Season One. However, since Paramount spent some time restoring the missing scenes from the pilot and producing a one-hour special about it in the early nineties, perhaps they will be releasing this separately.
Author's Update: many thanks to readers who wrote in to say that "The Cage" is already planned as a special feature for the season three box set. This is great news!
This is how Star Trek was meant to be released. The video and audio transfer is excellent, all the episodes are together in one compact box, and the bang-for-your-buck value is tremendous, especially compared to previous releases. There's no way Paramount could include enough extras to satisfy the obsessed Trekker, but the features here cover most of the bases, and the outstanding picture and sound quality makes this the definitive original series collection.
Logic dictates that Star Trek receive a "not guilty" verdict.
Review content copyright © 2004 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 1461 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Birth of a Timeless Legacy" Featurette
* "Life Beyond Trek: William Shatner" Featurette
* "To Boldly Go..." (Season One Featurette)
* "Reflections on Spock" Featurette
* "Sci-Fi Visionaries" Featurette
* Photo Log
* Original Teaser Trailers
* TV Tome Reference
* Official Site
* Bring Back Kirk: The Official Site